International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics

2nd Edition, as published by Charles François 2004 Presented by the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science Vienna for public access.


The International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics was first edited and published by the system scientist Charles François in 1997. The online version that is provided here was based on the 2nd edition in 2004. It was uploaded and gifted to the center by ASC president Michael Lissack in 2019; the BCSSS purchased the rights for the re-publication of this volume in 200?. In 2018, the original editor expressed his wish to pass on the stewardship over the maintenance and further development of the encyclopedia to the Bertalanffy Center. In the future, the BCSSS seeks to further develop the encyclopedia by open collaboration within the systems sciences. Until the center has found and been able to implement an adequate technical solution for this, the static website is made accessible for the benefit of public scholarship and education.


HOLON 1)2)3)

"Any stable biological or social sub-whole which displays rule-governed behaviour and/or structural Gestalt-constancy" (A. KOESTLER, 1969, p.211).

KOESTLER gives the following explanations:

"1.1 The organism in its structural aspect is not an aggregation of elementary parts, and its functional aspects not a chain of elementary units of behaviour"

"1.2. The organism is to be regarded as a multi-levelled hierarchy of semi-autonomous sub-wholes, branching into sub-wholes of a lower order and so on. Sub-wholes on any level of the hierarchy are referred to as holons.

"1.3. Parts and wholes in an absolute sense do not exist in the domains of life. The concept of the holon is intended to reconcile the atomistic and holistic approach.

"1.4. Biological holons are self-regulating open systems which display both the autonomous properties of wholes and the dependent properties of parts. This dichotomy is present on every level of every type of hierarchic organization, and is referred to as the "Janus phenomenon".

"2.1 Hierarchies are "dissectible" into their constituent branches, on which the holons form the nodes; the branching lines represent the channels of communication and control.

"2.2 The number of levels which a hierarchy comprises is a measure of its "depth", and the number of holons on any given level is called its "span" (SIMON).

"3.1. Functional holons are governed by fixed sets of rules and display more or less flexible strategies.

"3.2. The rules – referred to as the system's canon – determine its invariant properties, its structural configuration and/or functional patterns (Ibid).

(For many more details, see reference)

The concept of "holon" has been sometimes misinterpreted, which led to unecessary controversy. The holon is more than the sum of its parts because it includes the interrelations among these. But it is also less than this sum, because by entering in combination the elements lose some of their individual properties (or at least, they remain virtual and occult until the holon is destroyed). In order to make the point clearer, G. WEINBERG (1975, pA3) proposed the two following and somewhat paradoxically complementary laws:

"Composition Law:

The whole is more than the sum of its parts

"Decomposition Law:

The part is more than a fraction of the whole"


  • 1) General information
  • 2) Methodology or model
  • 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
  • 4) Human sciences
  • 5) Discipline oriented


Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science(2020).

To cite this page, please use the following information:

Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]

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